what is in your heart

It never fails! You put in an all-nighter, watch the sun come up, and you are so ready to go home and crash and then…the boss walks in and announces a quick breakfast meeting. Then the boss has the nerve to ask you what you think of him, not once, not twice, but THREE times! What’s up with that?


Unconditional, Self-sacrificing Love

With that in mind, it should be completely understandable how Peter must have felt when Jesus asked him three times “do you love me?[1] You can easily imagine his frustration at Jesus’ persistent questions. We need to ask ourselves why three times? And what exactly was Jesus asking Peter? And here is where something crucial gets lost in the translation, the result of inherent linguistic limitations caused by having only one word for love when two or more are necessary for greater understanding.

Reading this passage from John’s Gospel in the original Greek you would see that in the first two instances, Jesus uses agape or unconditional, self-sacrificing love when he asks Peter if he loved him. Peter then responds using phileo or a brotherly/friendship type of love. Clearly Jesus wanted a different, more committed response; he wanted Peter to say he loved him unconditionally, that he would if necessary give his life for him. When he failed to do so, Jesus repeated the question hoping Peter would realize what Jesus was asking of him.

The reality is that an extremely small number of people actually read the Gospels in Biblical Greek. For the vast majority of us we find ourselves using love for everything from food, flowers, rainbows, dogs, cats, neighbors, friends, family, spouses, and God, but almost certainly not in the same way. At least I would hope that is not the case.

But “Houston, we have a problem.” While those who read Biblical Greek may be very small in number, those who have the ability to read minds are completely nonexistent. So when the subject turns to love, how are we to know what is within another’s heart and mind? That is the quintessential question, isn’t it?

If I say “I love you” do you clearly and unambiguously understand how I love you? Should you be concerned, insulted, relieved, disgusted, or ecstatic when you hear my declaration of love? And however you hear it, are you absolutely certain that my intentions and what you believe my intentions to be are the same?

Adding a qualifier may offer some clarification. Telling someone that you love them like a friend or a brother or sister is certainly clearer and less apt to be misconstrued. But how do you tell someone clearly and concisely that the love you have for them is agape and not eros or just the opposite or a combination of the two?

When it comes to agape the old proverb “actions speak louder than words” is perhaps a greater determinant to understanding the intentions of the lover for the beloved. How one behaves and treats another in any relationship will bear far greater weight than words expressed with great emotion and feeling. All too many “fall in love” with blinders covering their eyes to avoid seeing what they do not wish to see. Saint Paul tells us that “Love never fails[2] which is true, but only when that love is mutual agape.


[1] John 21:15-17.
[2] 1 Cor 13:8.

About the author: Deacon Chuck

Deacon Chuck was ordained into the permanent diaconate on September 17, 2011, in the ministry of service to the Diocese of Reno and assigned to St. Albert the Great Catholic Community. He currently serves as the parish bulletin editor and website administrator. Deacon Chuck continues to serve the parish of Saint Albert the Great Catholic Community of the Diocese of Reno, Nevada. He is the Director of Adult Faith Formation and Homebound Ministries for the parish, conducts frequent adult faith formation workshops, and is a regular homilist. He currently serves as the bulletin editor for the parish bulletin. He writes a weekly column intended to encompass a broad landscape of thoughts and ideas on matters of theology, faith, morals, teachings of the magisterium and the Catholic Church; they are meant to illuminate, illustrate, and catechize the readers and now number more than 230 articles. His latest endeavor is "Colloqui: A journal for restless minds", a weekly journal of about 8 pages similar in content to bulletin reflections. All his reflections, homilies, commentaries, and Colloqui are posted and can be found on his website: http://deaconscorner.org. Comments are always welcome and appreciated. He is the author of two books: "The Voices of God: hearing God in the silence" which offers the reader insights into how to hear God’s voice through all of the noise that surrounds us; and "Echoes of Love: Effervescent Memories" which through a combination of prose and verse provides the reader with a wonderful journey on the way to discovering forever love. He regularly speaks to groups of all ages and size and would welcome the opportunity to speak to your group.

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